The Palestinians Won This Round

The leaders of the Israeli right and of the settler movement have been wearing their Cheshire Cat grins since the United States announced its pullback from negotiations to extend a limited Israeli moratorium on settlement construction. Israel’s right have taken to vilifying America’s current president with a birther-like enthusiasm and are celebrating what they consider to be another victory against U.S. peace efforts. Settlement construction itself is booming, with over 1600 units having been started in the ten weeks since the partial moratorium expired on September 26 (in truth, the construction never stopped anyway). 

The official Israeli government line is more measured, insisting that Israeli-U.S. close coordination and mutual appreciation is just hunky dory. That interpretation is one which U.S. officials have been eager to echo, at least in part one imagines for political reasons. As a depiction of reality, it is something of a stretch.

If anything, these past weeks have been more reminiscent of the prickly times which characterized long periods during Netanyahu’s first term in the late nineties opposing the Clinton administration and working closely with the then Republican-controlled Congress or even the Shamir-Bush senior standoff at the beginning of that decade. In recent weeks Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly set out terms for a U.S. letter of guarantees to Israel, which seemed designed to embarrass the Obama administration. Thus far at least, President Obama and his team have given the Israeli prime minister little cause for considering that there might be a cost for such mischief-making (unlike then President Clinton who effectively cornered Netanyahu in 1998–99).

Nevertheless, this latest round of peace failure should probably be looked at not as a setback, but as a potentially useful, clarifying moment. To be fair the Obama administration did not invent this peace process merry-go-round, it has adhered rather rigidly to the same script that has been failing for over a decade and a half, with only minor changes in nuance. The noteworthy difference this time was in the inability of the diplomatic seamstresses to piece together a face-saving shmata that might have covered up the peace process’s naked redundancy.

Contrary to appearances, the collapse of this latest effort actually strengthens the ability of the Palestinians to shape the next moves and to stamp their imprint on where this now goes. There are still three potential game-changers in the mix: Israel, the United States and the Palestinians. Israel, though, seems ever more intent on postponing and avoiding a moment of choice, and its officials now act in a way that make their own policies the single most proximate cause of their country’s increasing (self)delegitimization.

Netanyahu constantly reminds his American and other interlocutors that his domestic politics on peace, territory and settlements are terribly tricky and that he should not be expected to squander political capital until the real moment of truth arrives. Yet he does everything to make sure that moment will never come, and it appears now to be structurally endemic to the Israeli system that procrastination will invariably prevail and that Israel will not end the occupation of its own volition. Nothing Netanyahu has done in his second term as prime minister suggests otherwise.

The only steps Netanyahu seems willing or able to deliver are in areas decidedly tangential to what it will take to get a two-state solution. Palestinian economic development or improved local governance (areas which he encourages) are as relevant to a one-state outcome or a maintenance of limited Palestinian autonomy as they are to a post-occupation two-state deal.

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tmitch57 (December 11, 2010 - 8:10pm)

The Nobel Peace Prize was originally set up by Nobel's will to be awarded to whomever had made the greatest contribution in any given year to peace. Thus, it should almost by definition be awarded first to those leaders who make peace between two warring countries or groups and to those who facilitate such agreements by acting as mediators. Thus the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize during the 1990s to Yasir Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin (1994), to Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk (1995) and to John Hume and David Trimble (1999) were in the spirit of the original will. But many mediators have gone unrewarded: Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell from the Clinton and Obama administrations, while Jimmy Carter had to wait over 20 years before receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Obama should have taken the prize money and in a public ceremony split it between the two men in his administration who actually deserved it. Only after all those who actually have made peace with their enemies and those who have mediated successfully in peace processes should politically-correct peace prizes be awarded.

DICKERSON3870 (December 13, 2010 - 10:33pm)

RE: "America cannot impose a solution on Israel, but it can dramatically reconfigure the Israeli public and political conversation about the conflict and be the key to unlocking an Israeli political 'yes.'" - Daniel Levy                  . FROM URI AVNERY, 12/02/10:

…Thanks to the massive support of the Zionist leadership, the “national-religious” camp grew in Israel at a dizzying pace……There are now three religious educational systems – the national-religious, the “independent” one of the Orthodox, and “el-Hama’ayan (“to the source”) of Shas. All three are financed by the state at least 100%, if not much more. The differences between them are small, compared to their similarities. All teach their pupils the history of the Jewish people only (based, of course, on the religious myths), nothing about the history of the world, of other peoples, not to mention other religions. The Koran and the New Testament are the kernel of evil and not to be touched.The typical alumni of these systems know that the Jews are the chosen (and vastly superior) people, that all Goyim are vicious anti-Semites, that God promised us this country and that no one else has a right to one square inch of its land. The natural conclusion is that the “foreigners” (meaning the Arabs, who have been living here for 13 centuries at least) must be expelled – unless this would endanger the Jews.From this point of view, there is no longer any difference between the Orthodox and the national-religious, between Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Seeing the “youth of the hills”, who terrorize Arabs in the occupied territories, on screen, one cannot distinguish among them anymore – not by their dress, not by their body language, not by their slogans…


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